If you’ve been following the blog recently, then I’m sure you’ll be aware of the fact that mentally I have not been doing great. I’m trying my best to pull through and if I’ve learnt anything from this experience is that no matter what happens I know I have some really great people in my life that will always be there to help out. Yes this is sounding like the start of one those terrible “chick-flick” movies but honestly it got me thinking about some of the brilliant times I’ve had. 7 years ago I was having the time of my life in Nepal and India, exploring the Himalaya and Rajasthan. 5 years ago I was at a river party on the Seine in Paris that was broken up by police. Since then I’ve had even more great memories and it got me thinking about one great weekend I had recently in Riga, Latvia.
Now as you know I love travelling. I spent my 26th birthday in Chicago with one of my best friends since I wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t been before and so I decided to do the same for my 27th. I prospectively put the feelers out to see who else would be interested and in the end got a pretty decent turnout, which included friends from school and university.
I wanted a trip where I could experience a bit of culture and a bit of nightlife and generally leave people to do their own thing and we could all meet up in the evening. I must admit there was not much in the way of cultural site seeing. There was however a lot of nightlife. So if you like your beers then Riga is the place to go my friend. We were spoilt for choice. It’s not even that expensive at least by London standards.
First off I should give a warning. Avoid the Martas Street Hostel at all costs. It was not a pleasant experience and there is no guarantee of getting the rooms you booked. Security is lacking, safety is non-existent and all round it was a piss-poor excuse for a hostel, originally we were going to stay despite the problems; that was until the manager gave us an ultimatum. Given his attitude we decided to leave after one night. Having seen reviews since, we are not the only ones to have experienced this.
Secondly, I believe there is a silver lining to every experience, if that hostel had not been so bad we would never have found the Naughty Squirrel Backpackers. I cannot tell you how good this place was. It was a little more expensive but Hell it totally made up for it. The rooms and facilities were clean, it was in a great location, there was an area to cook and a bar. Hand’s down what made this the greatest was the staff. I’m not entirely sure when they slept but they were up to the wee hours drinking and partying away with us.
One cool thing they do to welcome guests is to give everyone a shot of Balzam. This is a like a black herbal liquor that frankly is a bit rank. They do have a nicer blackcurrant version though. Since there was an apparent delay getting us booked in they gave us one of each. Both burn the throat. It is a local specialty to Riga though so it is compulsory really.
In the evenings they encourage people to meet one another with happy hour drinks. Pints for 1.50€ anyone? They put on movie nights, bar crawls round the other hostels, drinking games and beer pong which is great fun. Naturally when they found out we were there for my birthday they cracked out some bubbly, many, many shots of Balzam which ultimately turned into me drinking one every time someone went to bed. Considering I was up until 7am every morning doing this I was not in the best of states. I think they were surprised at my stamina. I know I was. Oh and they bought me a tiara which I had to wear. Good times.
Honestly it was easy to see why stags and hens head here. On the bar crawl we got a ridiculous amount of free alcohol. I lost my glasses and somehow ended up singing a God awful karaoke version of Californication with a smashed Russian, who I suspected at one point was trying to propose to me. He got kicked out.
Although we spent most of the evenings in the bars, we did manage to see a bit of the city and make no mistake it is gorgeous. The little streets of Old Town and the towering steeples of the churches are a sight to behold. There are plenty of museums and activities that can be undertaken. The guys at the Naughty Squirrel can help book many of these as well. The food is great too, we found a lot of buffet style places where you can just pig out. However the bakeries and patisseries are out of this world! Great place to go for breakfast and soak up the alcohol from a few hours before. I thought their national library was pretty cool too. One tip I’d give is to head to the Radisson Blu hotel on Elizabetes iela. There is a bar on the top floor that is actually not that expensive but has some great views of the city in all directions. Free to get up as well. The other great thing is the airport is super close. It’s a 20-30 minute bus ride to Old Town.
I honestly had a great time and looking back on it makes me appreciate how important my friends are to me. They were all raving about it too and when we met up recently plans got thrown together to try and do something similar with everyone and try to get some new faces to join us. So perhaps I could be going to Sofia or Bucharest. Would be cool to see a bit of Bulgaria or Romania 🙂
Cover Photo: Walking the back streets of Riga.